Last year, Stats Perform began their 12-month countdown to the biggest show in football by identifying 11 uncapped players who could potentially break into their respective national squads before Qatar 2022 gets under way.
We have provided intermittent updates since then and, of the original 11, we’ve already had three success stories.
Cade Cowell, Christopher Nkunku and Jonathan Clauss have all managed to claim their first caps, but there’s still time for the others.
With the European domestic season now over, it’s as good a time as any to see how our picks have progressed over the past three months.
Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 23, goalkeeper, Granada
Unfortunately, Maximiano’s positive start to the season ultimately gave way for a rockier spell towards the end of the campaign. The goalkeeper was helpless as Granada were relegated from LaLiga – over the period between March 1 and the final game of the season, Maximiano’s save percentage (62.5) was the fourth-worst among keepers to play over 180 minutes. Intermediate, his 1.9 goals prevented over the course of the season is evidence he could be a shrewd pick-up by a LaLiga side, meaning his World Cup chances might not be completely over.
CAPPED: Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens
Clauss remains very much on course to go to Qatar. The wing-back is in the France squad again for the upcoming Nations League games after another positive couple of months. Since March 1, his 15 open-play chances created is bettered by one defender, while his 2.3 expected assists (xA) is also the second highest – there’s no doubt he offers genuine creative threat, both in open play and at set-pieces, and the likes of Chelsea and Atletico Madrid have apparently taken note.
Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 22, centre-back, Lille
Once again, Botman remains on the outside of the Netherlands squad, staying with the Under-21s instead. It’s not a massive surprise given he spent a significant chunk of the past three months out injured. Increasingly there’s a feeling he’s reached the end of the road with Lille – a move away, potentially to the Premier League, appears over pre-season.
Bremer (Brazil) – 25, centre-back, Torino
Bremer continues to wait patiently for a Brazil call-up – though there’s every chance he’ll end up in an Italy squad if the Selecao wait much longer. As would be expected of him, over the past few months Bremer has really put himself about, with his 84 duels contested the most among Serie A defenders. Similarly, his 25 headed clearances is bettered by only three – it’s clear to see that he offers a lot of spirit and fight at the back, and he’s another who has been strongly linked with a move to England.
Angelino (Spain) – 25, left-back, RB Leipzig
Leipzig enjoyed a decent end to the season, winning their first major title in the DFB-Pokal, reaching the Europa League semi-finals and fourth finish in the Bundesliga. But Luis Enrique still seems to require some convincing with respect to Angelino, despite his 2.3 xA since March 1 being the third-highest in the German top flight, highlighting the threat he carries out wide.
Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22 players, Barcelona
Yeah, it’s safe to say this suggestion has fallen flat on its face… Puig has played five times in LaLiga since our last update, including four outings in May. However, it’s difficult to see those appearances as little more than Barca trying to put him in the proverbial shop window, and he’d be wise to get away from Camp Nou as soon as possible if he has designs on playing first-team football. Certainly, a World Cup spot looks a pipedream.
CAPPED: Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, attacking player, RB Leipzig
What a season Nkunku’s had. He went from a solid 12 Bundesliga goal involvements in the 2020-21 campaign to 33 this term, a season-on-season improvement (21) only bettered by Moussa Dembele (24) across the top five European leagues.
In all competitions he had a hand in 51 goals (35 scoring, 16 set up) – that was five more than Mohamed Salah and the fourth-most in the big five leagues. It’s this form that earned him his first two France caps in March – and he’s in the squad again for their upcoming games, having had a hand in 18 goals since March 1, just four fewer than Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe.
Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, FC Dallas
Given his skillset and age, Velasco was always going to be a bit of a gamble when Dallas signed him. Perhaps it’s unsurprising he’s been hit and miss, providing some spectacular moments as well as some disappointing ones. Still, his four goal engagements since March 1 (averaging one every 169.5 minutes) isn’t a bad return for a player who’s in and out of the team and is still getting to grips with the league.
CAPPED: Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes
It’s easy to forget Cowell doesn’t turn 19 until October – after all, he is now into his third season in Major League Soccer. He has plenty of time on his side when it comes to carving out a great career, though he’ll need to have more attacking impact if he’s to force his way into the United States squad again. Granted, his three open-play assists since March 1 is bettered by only seven players, but they came from just six key passes, which is a poor return. Intermediate, he might be offered a route to Qatar by another team – Mexico are apparently keen on him declaring for them after his younger brother started representing their Under-15s.
Amine Gouiri (France) – 22, forward, Nice
Gouiri ended up having a somewhat disappointing end to a generally good season. Only one player had a higher xG score without scoring since March 1 in Ligue 1 than the Nice forward (2.1), and although he did lay on two assists in that period, his xA (1.3) was well below that of Benjamin Bourigeaud (3.9 ), Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi (both 2.9) at the top of the rankings for that metric. Only 11 players bettered his 16 goal involvements for the season, but the bar is much higher when it comes to breaking into a France squad – just ask Nkunku.
Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 19, forward, Granada
Arezo can be forgiven for not instantly setting LaLiga alight – let’s not forget, he was in a team that got relegated and played only 156 minutes. However, dropping down to the Segunda could be the making of him. After all, La Celeste’s next big thing, Darwin Nunez, earned his first cap while playing for Almeria in Spain’s second tier back in 2019 – though Arezo will clearly need some luck as well if he’s to break into the senior team before November.